Review: Alphadia Genesis (Wii U)

It’s no secret that the Wii U is something of a barren wasteland when it comes the offer of JRPGs. Aside from Pier Solar HD, there’s just not much on the system to sink one’s teeth into. Developer Kemco and publisher Natsume hope to change the situation, however, by releasing the port of their critically acclaimed mobile game, Alphadia Genesis. Just hearing that bit about being a mobile endeavor may be too much for some to stomach; those passing on Alphadia because of this (or any other reason), however, should know that they are in fact missing out on a solid roleplaying experience that has just enough tricks up its sleeve to be worthy of a gamer’s time.

Alphadia Genesis is not going to be remembered for its award-winning narrative. In actuality, the game seems to take a refreshing approach to storytelling by harkening back to the RPG days of yore when presenting a fairly straightforward and linear tale was the intended, and favorable, course of action. Games could get away with this, though, by expertly offsetting a by-the-numbers plot through the crafting and implementation of a charming cast of characters. Genesis adopts this model without hesitation, giving us a game that feels more character-driven than anything else. Although its roster of stars is quite small, the intimate lineup allows for quality character building, so as to make players actually care for the troupe of warriors.

In this, there’s also quite a bit of diversity among the cast, which is drawn upon by interactions that bring to light each person’s unique qualities and quirks. Fray is especially a likable protagonist, thanks to his humble attitude and do-right code of ethics that seems to direct his actions over the course of the 10-ish hour campaign. While these characters never break from typical JRPG tropes, they are at least well-executed in their archetypes. The lack of originality may be eye-rolling for some, but the characters are written to be quite likable, and to that end Kemco should be proud of their accomplishments. When put together with its plot, Genesis is quite a delightful game on the writing front.

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Alphadia Genesis isn’t just a game about story; it’s the usual Japanese affair, so that means character customization, combat, and exploration are integral to the overall experience. All three of these domains never offer any ground-breaking ideas, rather they are employed in a way that, like the characters, are mechanically reliable. Characters get new armor, weapons and abilities, combat plays out in a traditional turn-based way, and exploration usually means talking to NPCs in a town, landing a story quest, and then delving a dungeon. There’s a very rinse-repeat philosophy in its design, but by playing it safe in practically every way, Alphadia Genesis is, at all times, fundamentally sound in the area of game design. It never takes substantial risk to be any other than a conventional JRPG, but in that, it consistently delivers an adequate adventure at the very least.

One thing to be known about Genesis, though, is that it’s a shockingly easy game. Some will undoubtedly like its laid back tone, and will even welcome this change of pace — seeing as brutally, soul-crushing difficulties are all the rage these days — but folks wanting something of a challenge probably won’t get it here. We never had to grind to vanquish a boss and random encounters never really posed a any true threat over the course of our play time. A little bit of grinding would actually make things even more of a cakewalk. What’s interesting, then, is the game’s inclusion of an “easy” and “normal” mode, but nothing more. Easy could have been completed with our eyes closed, and normal was what I just described above; so this feels like something of a missed opportunity.

There also isn’t much to do outside of the main story in Alphadia. There are some side-quests here and there, sure, but nothing of any real significance. We enjoyed Genesis‘ world, and would liked to have explored it some more, but with few side-missions and a rather small world overall, it was hard to truly get lost in its wonders. This is a shame, too, because what is there is well-articulated. The game has a lore and history that begs learning about, but it’s never provided to the player.

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Lastly, many folks will look at Alphadia Genesis and know it to be a mobile title just by its aesthetics. Before we go further, let us make it known now: we love sprite-work. In fact, this particular editor would rather play a 2D JRPG, than a 3D one. That being said, Alphadia is somewhat lacking in the area of visual fidelity. It’s sprite work is not the problem though, as its extremely solid, with great detail. When in motion, though, is when it becomes apparent that the game is technically limited. Animations are restricted and jerky, and many towns have a “this looks an awful lot like the last one” feel to them. This is clearly due to the confines of mobile devices, but it would have been nice for the developers to touch up the animations just a bit — or at least so that they were as beautiful as the sprites themselves. Where this is all especially noticeable is during combat, when the game shifts from 2D to 3D. The 3D character and enemy models resemble that of a very early PS2 title, with sharp polygonal models and an almost complete lack of textures. They are not offensively bad necessarily, but like the interface and, well, practically everything else, they’re just unremarkable.

The soundtrack falls into the same category, but actually fairs quite a bit better thanks to a few strong pieces that drive home the emotionally-laden moments sprinkled throughout the story. The arrangements here range from heartfelt to verbose depending on the situation, and while not vast in terms of sheer number and variety, are more than competent.

While playing, we actually found ourselves using the off-TV option the most, as the game really feels the best when it’s on a smaller screen, in the palm of your hands — just as it was meant to feel when it was released back in March for iOS and Android. The mere fact that is has this ability is great, as it’s certainly one of the Wii U’s more enticing features.

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Closing Comments:

Alphadia Genesis never strays too far off the beaten path. Keeping in mind that this is a budget eShop title, it’s actually quite charming and worthy of its price tag for anyone who considers themselves a fan of old-school, 16-bit JRPGs. Play Pier Solar HD first if you’re wanting to fully get that throwback feel, but once that’s come and gone, Genesis fills the role quite well. Its biggest issue is how safe it plays everything, but anyone wanting a straightforward approach to the JRPG genre will leave more than likely impressed by Alphadia‘s endearing simplicity and nostalgic allure.